The Carolina Hurricanes are tired of being considered mere playoff qualifiers and are ready to enter the conversation as serious Stanley Cup contenders.
Now that they’ve qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the early 2000s, the Hurricanes think they have the young core to make it happen. They acquired forward Jesper Fast in the off-season, but the goal is to keep things fresh and let players like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov take their respective next steps.
“Last year, guys were kind of feeling the accomplishment of getting to the conference finals and this year, it really hurt,” general manager Don Waddell said. “I think that’s the old saying that you’ve got to learn how to lose before you win…We went into the offseason knowing that we liked what we had, and we wanted to just continue to build off it, that we didn’t need to make major changes.”
Svechnikov scored 61 points in 68 games last season, besting his 37-point output as a rookie in 2018-2019. The 20-year-old should be primed for even more improvement this season and Waddell fully believes he’ll be a 50-goal scorer soon.
“He (Svechnikov) took a week off or so (after last season), but I’m at the training facility every day and he’s here five days a week,” said Waddell. “He wants to be the best player he possibly can. He wants to give himself the best chance, and that’s what you like about a young guy.”
Betting on Svechnikov to improve isn’t just a matter of luck. The Hurricanes are among the best possession teams in the NHL, starting 52.3 percent of their five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone. They push the action fast and Svechnikov is a big part of that, with a shot attempts (SAT) percentage of 51.2 – good for fifth on the team among forwards.
“Obviously, the talent’s there with those two guys (Aho and Svechnikov),” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “But I think what excites me, and you’ve heard me say this all the time, is their will to get better. These guys are not satisfied with where they are individually and certainly not teamwise.”
Rauma’s Aho scored 38 goals and added 28 assists last season for 66 points in 68 games. He produced a dozen points in nine playoff games, including three goals and 15 shots in the bubble. He keeps refining his game and is ready to be a team leader for the Hurricanes.
With Aho and Svechnikov set to emerge, there’s a lot to like about Carolina in 2020-2021. This is a team on the rise, a club more than ready to prove themselves as Stanley Cup Champions.